Tuesday, July 27, 2010


WARM-UP AND MULLIGANS (Warm-up the mental game.)

Arnold Jacobs once told me, “You don’t need to warm up, Dick. You’re playing 5 hours a day. The embouchure is just meat; there’s blood flowing through it all the time. What you do need is a maintenance routine.”

Another time he told me, “One of the best performances I did of Bydlo (from Pictures at an Exhibition)was when I was down in the coffee shop during a recording session and I was told Reiner had changed the order. I went running up the stairs buzzing a few notes. I never played it better.”

I have found in golf and music that time spent in a library or other quiet setting is often better preparation for a performance than a crash course on the driving range (practice room). It is better to visualize what you want to happen than rehearsing what can go wrong. Now golf is a bit more physical than playing a musical instrument. And it isn’t something I do 5 hours a day. The point is still relevant, however. While some stretching is beneficial, actual practice on the range should not be relied on and can actually put one in the wrong frame of mind.

“There are two tubas; the one in your hand and the one in your head.” Mr. Jacobs was a big proponent of practicing music on the mouthpiece. Many of us were inspired by the resonance of his buzz on low notes below the clef. New students like me were unaccustomed to buzzing C below the clef and took the challenge as a separate goal. Jake never stressed the sound aspect of buzzing. He even allowed buzzing up an octave or covering the end of the shank to add resistance. For him it was “Mouthpiece Solfegio”. Many of us went overboard with it as a separate goal.

We didn’t witness much of this first hand but Jake studied scores and listened to recordings as part of his own practice. Solti was conducting Das Reingold and Jake had been listening to a recording Solti had done in Berlin. Jake said the tuba player played the long sustained low parts without a breath and he was afraid Solti would expect the same. With only a modest lung capacity, he said 2.9 liters at his prime, he knew he could not do it and went to Solti to explain in advance. Solti said not to worry. In Berlin they had brought in two BBb players from the local band and they alternated breathing.

It is better to walk the course, study the greens, and calculate yardages then to play a crash study round on the course. I make notes to myself about my golf game. We know that players will often walk the course before a game. We know that caddies study a course before a game. I find that I sometimes play better after studying my notes and sometimes play worse after going to the driving range. It’s also better to get a good night’s sleep before an exam than to stay up all night cramming. This is even more true of a physical ‘exam’ like a golf game or a concert.

Chevy Chase said in Caddy Shack, “See the ball; be the ball.” Corollary: “Hear the music; be the music.”

I had my tuning slide shortened when I lived in Chicago and found myself pulling out an inch farther when I moved home to Cleveland, such was the difference in pitch between the two cities. That’s a quarter inch to a trumpet player and a half inch to a trombonist. I remember talking to Mr. Jacobs about the Gabrielli brass recording session in Philadelphia. Three great brass sections from three great orchestras, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Chicago. He said they were having coffee after they had already put the first side ‘in the can’ when someone exclaimed, “Hey. We never took a tuning note.” Such was the musicianship of all those players to match pitch without bothering to take a tuning note. How often does a lesser ensemble tune for hours only to play out of tune. The instrument in the head trumps the instrument in the hand. So it is with golf.

There are no ‘Mulligans’ in golf or music. (A ‘Mulligan’ is a "do-over" on the first tee.)

Mr. Jacobs assigned an exercise in the Pasquale Bona book Rhythmical Articulation. He gave me the book so I knew it must be important. The next week I played it in my lesson. He came down hard on me for failure to subdivide the triplets juxtaposed with quadruplets. What a great book the Bona was for learning to sight read. I read it in treble clef because the trombone version was not yet available. After two years away, I brought in the Bona book at my first lesson back. I had practiced the entire book. Part way through one selection Mr. Jacobs closed the book. “We don’t need to work on these, Dick.” We never opened the book again in a lesson. He saw that the lesson had been taught and learned. It was a great lesson in sight reading preparedness.

I got called to play the off-stage band part in the Verdi opera Othello when the Metropolitan Opera was in Cleveland. The part was not in the excerpt books. The few scores had all been checked out of every library in the area. There was no rehearsal. An hour before the gig I went to Public Auditorium where the Met played but no one was in place. So I waited. A half hour before the performance I approached the librarian and was told, “You don’t play ‘till the second act. I don’t have time to worry about your part now.” I didn’t get the part until half way into the first act. It was an ophicleide part, as I recall in C# minor, arppegiated above the staff. Although it was quite playable, it was one that I would have preferred to have practiced. I went into the men’s room and buzzed it through on the mouthpiece. I ran into Mel Broiles, the principal trumpet. (It was his turn to play in the off-stage band.) I asked if there was anything I should know about the performance. He said it was going to be the loudest f&^%$%$ band I’d ever played in. That was the rehearsal. Standing with my big York on a dark stage with one light over the entire band it went well. No Mulligans. Jake had prepared me well.

Golfer John Daly burst into the PGA limelight with an impressive win at Crooked Stick Golf Course in 1991. Daly was the ninth alternate and had packed his car late Wednesday afternoon when he had moved up to fourth alternate. He headed for Indianapolis from Arkansas and got to his hotel room at midnight. Without a practice round, Daly found a way to control his enormous drives, putted like a dream, shot 69-67-69-71 for a 276 and a three-shot win in his first ever PGA Championship. Talk about no Mulligans; he didn’t even have a practice round. As Jake said, “You shouldn’t rely on a particular routine. You never know when you will be stuck at a railroad crossing and have to go on cold.”

I am not suggesting practice is a waste of time. To the contrary, it is exceeding necessary. Scales, arpeggios, the Bona book. There is a point, however, when it is done for it’s own sake without a purpose that it can be deconstructive. Harry Herforth used to say “Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes habits.” The same is true on the driving range. Bad golfers hit balls. Good golfers imagine themselves on the course and pick targets and create challenges.

Neither am I suggesting that warming up does not have its advantages. I do suggest it should not be relied on for golf or music. I further suggest that a good warm up for either should never be a crash course or cramming for an exam. A useful goal for warming up should be to recreate the feel, both mentally and physically of a positive and confident performance. Knowing that the warm up is not a requirement for good performance frees the performer from panicking due to lack of time or immediate success in the practice room or on the practice tee.

“What I’m doing now is showing off.” Said Mr. Jacobs as he was ‘warming up’ before a master class. He had told me once never to practice on stage. “You never know who might be listening. The conductor may hear you from his dressing room.” And so it was that after a Cleveland Ballet performance a conductor from a European Orchestra sent word that he would like to take the whole brass section home with him. Unfortunately it was not a firm job offer. As a bogey golfer in my mid-sixties at the time of this writing, I have no delusions of ever experiencing an analogy in golf. What I do take from this is to not ‘practice’ on the driving range before a round of golf. That’s not to say I don’t go to the range before a round. I simply go with a different purpose. I am there to remind myself of things I know that are not automatic. I am there to re-awaken the feeling of a good swing. After all, I am not playing golf five hours a day as I once did with the tuba.

Warming up on the practice tee can be similar to warming up before an audition. There is a dynamic of ego that can come into play if one is not careful. I took an orchestra audition once where one candidate walked around the room playing right in the face of others. Perhaps it made him feel good but it only proved to everyone around that he was obnoxious. In a golf foursome as in a pick-up band section, it can be a point of pride to see who is the ‘A’ player, aka the section leader. Sometimes the jockeying begins in the practice room or on the practice range. Sometimes it has been pre-determined. I have seen musicians plunk themselves down in the first chair only to disgrace themselves in rehearsal and be moved down. I once played in a golf scramble where the self appointed ‘A’ player told the other three to ‘lay up’ and then ‘I’ll hit the drive we will use.” That story would end best if I told you he blasted one out of bounds. In fact he hit a nice drive. I did retell the story to other club members and everyone agreed he is a chump no one likes to play with. I decided not to be the chump no one wants to hire for the next gig. I chose to sit last at least on new gigs. On the golf course I am content to be the ‘B’, ‘C’ or ‘D’ player who comes through in the clutch when the ‘A’ player chokes.

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